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The Petite Sirah Grape

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About Petite Sirah

(Synonyms: Duriff, Plant Durif, Plant Fourchu, Pinot de Romans, Pinot de l'Hermitage.)


Map showing California's wine regions

Petite Sirah is a red-wine grape originating in relatively modern times (the 1860s) as a cross between the grape types Peloursin and Syrah (with which Petite Sirah should not be confused). The grape is commonly known outside the U.S. as the Durif, from the name of the botanist who created it, François Durif. The grape is today not much grown outside of the U.S. and Australia; almost none is grown in its native France, where it is a disdained type.

In its early days, Petite Sirah wine was chiefly produced by a few wineries in California's Livermore Valley, and had a reputation as a huge, dense, inky, profoundly tannic monster. More modern renditions, giving the grape some respect and care, have produced palatable wines of less brute force, but the type is still marked by the qualities of a very dark "squid-ink" coloration, medium to dense body, fairly high acidity, dark-fruit flavors (plum, blueberry), and above all the characteristic "black pepper" nose and flavor overtone. It is not a subtle wine, but is useful whenever a strong red is wanted.

Because most plantings were in the era when winemaking in the U.S. mainly wanted economical bulk production for jug "Burgundy", most of the vineyards containing Petite Sirah were and often still are planted with other varieties intermixed (a so-called "field blend"), and it is probable that most wine sold as Petite Sirah is actually some sort of blend impossible to exactly sort out. (Typical admixture types would be Alicante Bouschet, Carignan, Grenache, Mourvèdre, Peloursin, Béclan, And Zinfandel.) Nonetheless, by now (because many of those old vineyards were torn out while Petite Sirah was in eclipse) most "Petite Sirah" from California is wholly or very largely monovarietal.

Petite Sirah takes well to oak-barrel aging, which can import a "chocolate-y" quality to it. Also, Petite Sirah being, as noted, highly tannic, can age for long periods, even decades. Not a few say that while the latest efforts are drinkable and pleasing now, a minimum of one decade, and ideally two or three, will much improve them.

Factoid: Petite Sirah has is own appreciation society, P.S. I Love You.

Some Descriptions of Petite Sirah Wines

Some Petite Sirahs to Try

(About this list.)

Petite Sirah has seen a recent jump in its "fashionableness"; consequently, while the handful of old classic low-price bottlings is still around, there are also a lot of newer expensive releases. The price spectrum clumps up around ten dollars, give or take a little, peters out in the $15 to $20 range, then slowly starts up again at the $25 level and accelerates in the $35-and-up range. Owing to our self-imposed upper price limit of $20 in these lists, those newer "hot" bottlings are not shown below (though see the "Splurge" section farther below).

Within our range there are still quite a few possibilities, and we have chosen by finding those mentioned favorably by multiple review sources. All listed have several retail offerings at under $20, but a few bump close to that limit.

The quotations below are excerpts; we strenuously urge you to click on the green diamond symbol by each quoted review to see the full article.
Dalton "Oak Aged" Petite Sirah
(Samson, Israel.)

• Retail offers of this wine listed by 1000 Corks
• Retail offers of this wine listed by Wine Searcher
• This wine's CellarTracker review pages.
• This wine's Wine Searcher "Tasting Notes" page.

Some quotations and facts about this wine:

Dark violet-red in color, this wine has aromas of black cherry, lavender and confectioner's sugar. Cool and bright notes play off each other, with flavors of ripe black cherry, anisette, cranberry and sage. Soft tannins lead to a finish that is long-lasting but doesn't overstay its welcome. 93 points, Editors' Choice.

Deep purple in color with a purplish rim. Teeth staining color. Medium intensity on the nose of sweet blackberries, sweet plums, brandy, licorice, oak, black currants, cedar, tar, black cherries, spices and peppercorn. Full bodied with medium acidity and long legs. Fruity on the palate with blackberries, blueberries, plums, figs, cherries, currants, bitter vegetables, wood, licorice, dark chocolate, cola, black pepper and spices. Medium plus on the finish with full, green tannins and peppercorn. 85 points.

[T]his is an aromatic, rich, and velvety beauty with sweet, dark berry fruit and spice notes, some earthiness, and a lovely finish with additional notes of black pepper, sage, lavender, and French vanilla. With soft tannins and a nice, satisfying, long finish.

The Nose was very very promising. Swirling the wine around in the glass brought an assortment of very solid attractive aromas of heavy plum juice, warm berries, vanilla fudge, oak spices and a hint of smoke…Medium to heavy body with rich matured plums and berries yet certainly not syrupy. Definite taste of creamy vanilla ice cream as it goes down and a long lasting finish. The strange thing is that all these flavours seemed to come along, one after the other, not in layers.

[B]y heaven Petite Sirah as Petite Sirah should be. Dark garnet with a purple robe, generously fragrant, medium- to full-bodied with notes of black pepper, licorice and blackberries on the nose, those yielding on the palate to ripe, near-jammy huckleberry and blackberry fruits on a background of vanilla tinged spicy notes and, on the long finish a hint of black olives. Generous and well focused. 90 points.

Carmen Gran Reserva Petite Sirah
(Maipo Valley, Chile. A blend: Petite Sirah, 87%; Syrah, 3%; Cabernet Sauvignon, 10%.)

• Retail offers of this wine listed by 1000 Corks
• Retail offers of this wine listed by Wine Searcher
• This wine's CellarTracker review pages.
• This wine's Wine Searcher "Tasting Notes" page.

Some quotations and facts about this wine:

Cheesy aromas of leather, licorice and black fruits filter into a jagged, fiercely tannic palate. Flavors of tea, black plum, stewed berry and herbs finish with a big residual tannic bite. 87 points.

This 2011 feels quite ripe and a little exotic, with aromas of plum liqueur, oriental spices and quite a lot of oak-related tones. The palate is lush, with a strange mixture of round and some drying tannins, most probably from the barrique. Certainly different, but it would be better with less oak. [Wine Advocate]

A dense and beautiful red with blueberry and licorice and spice with just hints of vanilla. Full body, with round tannins and a fruity finish. A tiny amount of American oak in the aging. A lot of wine for the money. 91 points. [James Suckling]

There is nothing “petit” about this petit syrah; it reigns large. The wine has an aromatic ripe-with-cherry nose that is uniquely Chilean (a sense you’ll develop the more you taste Chilean wines). It has a deep purple and black color with strong viscous legs that demand notice. A mix of strawberry and cherry undertones precedes a pleasant chalky finish.

Dark fruit, plums and sour cherries on the palate, full bodied and powerful, very balanced, good acidity. Drinkability: 8.

Black, purplish ruby typical for this varietal, forewarning the tightly wound, jammy, blueberry/blackberry sweetness in the nose, underlined by a green leafiness; the sweet, jammy fruit rounded out by dollops of vanillin oak and enlarged by sturdy tannin, cutting a broad swath across the palate.

J. Lohr "Tower Road" Petite Sirah
(Paso Robles, U.S.A.)

• Retail offers of this wine listed by 1000 Corks
• Retail offers of this wine listed by Wine Searcher
• This wine's CellarTracker review pages.
• This wine's Wine Searcher "Tasting Notes" page.

Some quotations and facts about this wine:

At nearly 15% alcohol, this big boy exhibit’s a nearly opaque purple red color with a well-defined magenta rim. The aromas reveal the use of American oak (coconut) with a hint of rosemary. The American oak settles on the palate, bringing that characteristic coconut extract character into focus. Dried dark fruits (blackberry) and firm but juicy tannins complete the palate experience, with the American oak character running throughout. The finish is long and the tannins tend to dominate. High alcohol shows a bit, but rich foods take care of that. Open and decant vigorously (splashing) if planning this for dinner tonight.

Rich, smoky, concentrated and port-like, it bursts out currant, plum, bittersweet chocolate, blackberries and cedar. High in alcohol and astringent tannins so not for guzzling, but contemplative sipping. Rating: 4 stars out of 5.

Petite Sirah is known for one thing: fruity power. It is an inky, intense, heavy-handed wine. The J. Lohr winery makes an impressive effort, and while staying true to the bold nature of the grape, they manage to pull in some acid and structure by blending in just a touch of several other grapes. Their key amount of blending could very well bring this Petite Sirah to the next level.

What a nose of spices and berries, tannic and concentrated, rich and ripe, a big wine with a come-taste-me-now character.

This is an inky black glass stainer. Aromas and flavors gush forth, showing fresh blackberries and blueberries, mixed with browned butter and nutty characteristics. A creamy mouthfeel leads to a fruit-driven, lightly silty finish. Wine Lines rating: 90.

There are lots of gamy, meaty notes in this dry, full-bodied Petite Sirah. That’s in addition to the blackberries, blueberries and mocha that make it so tasty. With a few drops of Syrah and Zinfandel, it shows a nice approach to the art of the blend. 90 points.

I recently judged 50 petite sirahs priced at $20 or more at the San Francisco Chronicle Wine Competition, the world’s largest competition of American wines. Paso Robles petite sirahs performed extremely well. Two of the wines we evaluated received double gold medals, meaning that all the judges on the panel agreed that the wine deserved gold. [One of those was] the 2007 J. Lohr Tower Road Petite Sirah ($35), a wine that’s big, ripe, dense and glass-coating, with loads of bright berry fruit.

The Fableist "053" Petite Sirah
(Paso Robles, U.S.A. A blend: Petite Sirah, Grenache, Mourvedre.)

• Retail offers of this wine listed by 1000 Corks
• Retail offers of this wine listed by Wine Searcher
• This wine's CellarTracker review pages.
• This wine's Wine Searcher "Tasting Notes" page.

Some quotations and facts about this wine:

♣ Because this vintner is relatively new, there are few reviews out yet. "The Fableist" is a partnership of two well-known Paso Robles (California) winemakers: Curt Schlachlin, winemaker at Sans Liege; and Andrew Jones, winemaker at Field Recordings.

[The wine] shows this grape’s ability to be full-bodied, dark-fruited, and chocolaty but still lively.

An excellent example of the grape variety, the 2015 The Fableist Petite Sirah delivers solid ripe fruit and black pepper aromas and flavors. The wine's well-built palate makes it a beautiful match with a well-marbled steak. 90 points.

Michael David "Petite Petit" Petite Sirah
(Lodi, U.S.A. Blended with 15% Petit Verdot.)

• Retail offers of this wine listed by 1000 Corks
• Retail offers of this wine listed by Wine Searcher
• This wine's CellarTracker review pages.
• This wine's Wine Searcher "Tasting Notes" page.

Some quotations and facts about this wine:

The blend of sweet-seeming oak and bold, ripe fruit flavors is irresistible in this big and satisfying wine. The aromas are like vanilla, chocolate and black pepper, while flavors bring on blackberry jam, espresso and dark chocolate for volume and complexity on the palate. 92 points, Editors' Choice.

Battalions of tannin accompany ripe fruit flavors in this bold, full-bodied wine made from Petite Sirah and Petit Verdot. A supportive wrap of astringency from layers of fine tannin bolsters the rich blackberry and blueberry flavors, while flashy, spicy, smoky, new-oak accents infuse everything from the aroma to the finish.

Petite Sirah wines tend to be concentrated and tannic with black fruit flavors, while Petite Verdot is often added to blends in order to add structure and Earthy notes. The resulting wine, “like elephants whose size is imposing,” is well-structured and bold…The juice is a deep, dark purple with a nose of ripe black fruits, blueberries, and cola. The palate features gripping tannins with a rusty, Earthy minerality that is balanced by a sweet fruit mid-palate. The wine is full-bodied with a finish of baking spices and vanilla from 16 months of aging in French Oak barrels.

begins with a very nice aroma of plum, vanilla, lots of spice and a bit of smoke. The wine tastes fruity without being too sweet and even has hints of vanilla and chocolate. With loads of rich, savory fruit, a nice slightly chewy texture and smooth but firm tannins this would make a nice BBQ wine…Taste Rating: 8; Cost Rating: 6; Overall Rating: 7.5. A Recommended Buy.

An outstanding wine with gorgeous aromatics of incense, blueberry liqueur, camphor and blackberry, the wine hits the palate with a full-bodied, thunderous inky feel to it, great fruit purity, amazingly supple, velvety tannins for Petite Sirah and Petit Verdot, and a long finish. This is another wine that over-delivers in a big way. Drink it over the next 5-7 years. Year in year out, this is one of the best value wineries in the entire world. 90 points. [Wine Advocate, 20 August 2015]

This is the best bargain in America today, if you can still get it. The violet color is absolutely stunning in the glass, and the dark cherry, plum and chocolate flavors burst forth like shooting stars.

Concannon "Conservancy" Petite Sirah
(Livermore Valley, U.S.A.)

• Retail offers of this wine listed by 1000 Corks
• Retail offers of this wine listed by Wine Searcher
• This wine's CellarTracker review pages.
• This wine's Wine Searcher "Tasting Notes" page.

Some quotations and facts about this wine:

The 2008 Petite Sirah, Conservancy exhibits a rich nose of fresh blackberries, cassis and has a flavorful palate of cherries, plums and mocha. Subtle notes of cedar, cocoa and earth tone lead to a smooth, silky finish. . . The 2008 Petite Sirah, Conservancy has fantastic depth and character. It exhibits a rich nose of fresh berry fruit, and the flavorful palate shows blackberries, chocolate, mocha and plums. Subtle notes of molasses, cedarwood, and ripe mulberries are complemented by soft, creamy oak tones and a smooth, silky finish.

Gobs of blackberries on the nose, red licorice, purple Gushers candy, along with mocha and toasted coconut. Juicy and full of red and black berry fruit, this wine is jammy and thick. High alcohol is evident over the creamy-smooth tannins. Inky, but not much in the way of secondary flavors. 85 points.

For a step up [from their basic "Seleted Vineyards" bottling, listed farther above], try Concannon’s 2009 “Conservancy” Petite Sirah from the Livermore Valley. This is a bigger and more complex wine with plum, blackberry and blueberry notes along with a touch of vanilla and good deal of spice. There’s more tannic structure here and a bigger oak influence. This one is also an excellent value at just $15 and will work very well with heartier meat dishes, including steak, short ribs and barbecue.

Dominant aromas of cassis and blackberry. Medium tannins, restrained fruit. Always one of my favorite bargain Petite Sirahs, and I'm glad to revisit it from time to time. Open this up some afternoon with leftover roast beef and horseradish sauce and enjoy a perfect wine/sandwich combination.

Concannon is one of California's masters of petite sirah, one of the state's best but most underrated red wine grapes. This premium version, a step up from its high-value basic version, is exceptionally complex for its price. It's a full-bodied wine with intense flavors of chocolate, coffee, blackberry, herbs and that distinct dustiness that is characteristic of petite sirah. This wine is very easy to drink now but can age for a decade or more. This is one of those wines that can be a foundation of a wine cellar for a person of middling means.

The Livermore Valley master of Petite Sirah outpaces much of its competition with Conservancy, a wine that honors land conservancy and is priced fairly. Well-made and very balanced for a larger production endeavor, this Petite opens with a nose of pepper and mocha, stewed berry and plum and develops into a full body that’s lush and oaky but also shows plenty of minerality. 88 points.

Petite sirah does not always have to be overly inky, dark and tannic; this wine is a good example. The Concannon family has been making wine since 1883, and was the first in America to bottle a petite sirah. A sip of this 2009 petite sirah brings on pronounced blueberry fruit flavor with a silky mouth feel, balanced alcohol and acidity. It is a nicely made wine and perfect for a picnic of cured meats and hard cheeses. If it is dinner you need a wine for, this petite sirah will pair well with so many things on the grill — spicy barbecued chicken, juicy steak — as well as slow-cooked beef or lamb stew. “Conservancy” on the label means that the vineyard land has been placed in a legal trust, forbidding any future development. Good wine, good practices.

We’ve reviewed the 2007 Conservancy petite sirah and found it’s characteristics to be spot on the varietal, as well as somewhat spot on in exhibiting some of the challenges winemakers have with this varietal. We scored that wine an 87. Let’s see how the 2008 stacks up. The first thing you notice about this wine is the deep brilliant purple color. The wine just looks delicious. The nose offers deep berry with mild toast, and the mild alcohol is kept better in-check than the 2007. On the palate the wine is all petite sirah, showing lush deep berry with well-integrated toast and soft tannins, leading to a smooth finish. It’s a full-bodied wine but it doesn’t overwhelm with oak and tannin. This style of wine often serves as a good starter for wine-lovers looking to branch-out from full-bodied whites or light-bodied reds, to something with more power.

In a word, the 2008 Concannon Vineyard Conservancy Petite Sirah was excellent. Sweet blackberries and a little chocolate and pepper on the nose. The palate showed blackberries and even a bit of mocha. There's some oak coming through but not overpowering at all. Nice tannins and a dry finish. Overall, just a really nicely balanced, full-bodied, fruity and very drinkable wine. We quite enjoyed it quite a bit and recommend you check it out! Definitely a wine that will find a spot in the next update of the Top 10 list. Taste Rating: 8; Cost Rating: 8; Overall Rating: 8.0. Recommended Buy

I found the wine to be very enjoyable. It is definitely Petite Sirah, but it has a little less body than other examples of the variety, which makes it very easy to sip in spite of its boldness. It has intense aromas and flavors of blackberry, black cherry, blackcurrant, blueberry, plum, cocoa, and mocha.

For a Splurge

A selection that is a bit better than those listed at a bit more cost would be the Frank Family Vineyards Reserve Petite Sirah.

• That wine at 1000 Corks
• That wine at Wine Searcher
• Its Wine Searcher "Tasting Notes" page.
• Its CellarTracker pages.





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